Chapter 34 - Aubree (Part 2)
Aubree watched Stone pack up his things with a heaviness weighing down on her chest. When was the last time she had been separated from him? It felt like ages ago and the pressurized ache only intensified with each passing minute. He kissed her every few moments between actions, the pain of leaving her intensifying with each caress of his lips, making her eyes sting.
“I’ll be okay,” she whispered.
He nodded as he swallowed back the lump building in his throat.
[I will sustain injuries,] he said in her mind, unable to form the words with his tongue as he pressed his forehead against hers, his fingers caressing her cheeks. [Don’t be alarmed if you feel them. That’s part of our bond. I will be fine, don’t fret about that. I have you to come back to. That knowledge will be enough.]
Brooke went downstairs to give them some privacy—mostly because she couldn’t stand seeing mates “suck face,” as she put it. Not that Aubree wanted to make-out in front of her friend, but Brooke understood that it was hard for mates to part.
It was a relief to know that her best friend understood this world Aubree had entered. However, being Stone’s mate seemed to make everything more complicated. Being an Exile really did have an effect on his life and the way everyone perceived him. Brooke’s opinion of him was harsh, almost evil, when she first explained about him.
‘He hasn’t hurt you, has he? He’s a ruthless male and got away with murder!’
If only they knew the truth—the whole truth—would they still see him this way, even with the façade he wore in front of others?
Her fingers dug into the collar of his T-shirt, not wanting to let him go. [How long do you think this will take?]
[I’m not sure, Love. Could be a few days, or a few weeks.]
[Don’t be gone too long,] she said. [The next full moon is only two weeks away.]
He nodded, his eyebrow brushing lightly against her forehead. [I haven’t forgotten. It makes sense for the vampires to strike tonight. It’s a new moon. The Goddess has closed Her eyes and we will be at our weakest without Her Light.]
Aubree pulled back a little to search his eyes. [What does that mean?]
[Her Light guides us and gives us strength. In a sense, we feel alone without it. Like having a third eye, almost. Without Her Light, our third eye is closed.]
Aubree swallowed the lump forming in her throat. She didn’t know what exactly he meant by that, but the thought of them being weakened tonight worried her. [Will you all be okay?]
A knowing grin tugged on the corners of his lips as he tucked her hair behind her ear. [Yes, don’t worry. It is you I must worry about.]
[What about Gwen? Do you think she’s ready to fight?]
Pulling away with a sigh, he looked out the bedroom window. [I don’t want her to, but I know she’ll fight me on it. She’ll be assigned to guard the west side of the territory, hopefully far enough away that she won’t be threatened. I know she can handle herself, she’s one of the strongest females I’ve met, but I can’t risk it. It’s too soon...]
She nodded and followed his gaze out the window. [I wish we had more time.]
[That’s exactly why Carina is acting now. We haven’t fully recovered, but she’s had enough time to build her numbers and strike at the most opportune time.]
He kissed her softly before pressing his forehead against hers.
[If Jackson is as true to his word as most Alphas are, then you will be safe and Brooke will have your back as well.] He sighed as his thumb stroked her cheek. [I just wish I could trust him more, but I don’t.]
Trust was always something he had issues with, she knew. Trust was something that had to be earned, and if first meetings with strangers from other packs already held prejudices against him, then there was little room on which to build a foundation of trust.
She knew she would have to be the one to change the cycle and it started today when she went to the Lancaster Pack. The werewolves were sure to turn their noses up at her, but she had to prove them wrong somehow.
Stone wasn’t the man they all believed him to be, and she wasn’t going to turn into a monster because they sealed the bond. She had to make them understand that this was the Goddess’ will and was meant to be so.
They made up an excuse for Stone’s sudden departure in the middle of the afternoon, stating that the “gang violence” in Minneapolis took the lives of two of his fellow officers and they were short-staffed for the Independence Day celebrations and the violent night they were sure to have.
“He has a tough job,” Aubree’s mother said as they watched him drive down the street from the front porch. “Cops are always in the line of danger. You sure you can handle the stress of being with a cop?”
Aubree hummed a yes, her heart sinking at the thought of him getting hurt.
It would always be like this. Him going off every night to hunt vampires. Always putting his life at risk. All of them—Gwen, Gavin, Alistair, Gunner—putting their lives at risk to protect humans. Was this how they were expected to spend their lives until the day they finally met their grizzly end?
“Chicago’s gang violence today won’t be much better,” Brooke said to try and take some of the emotional strain off Aubree’s mind. “Come on. Let’s go over to my house. My parents have been dying to see you all again and want to have you over for a barbecue.”
“Oh, we don’t want to be a bother...” Aubree’s mother started to say when her husband wrapped an arm around her shoulder and cut in.
“We’d love to. We’ll bring some steaks, a salad, and beer.”
They set to work packing things to take, Aubree’s parents with the food and drink, while Aubree hurried to pack clothes for them all and Brooke snuck them into her car. Aubree never noticed how quietly and quickly her best friend moved until now.
“Here’s the plan,” Brooke whispered as Aubree packed the last of the clothes, “we’re going to get your parents super drunk and convince them to spend the night. Hopefully, that will also hinder their memory for tomorrow.”
“What about after that?” Aubree asked. “How can we convince them to stay for the duration of the battle?”
Brooke sighed as she tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear. “I don’t know. You won’t like any of the ideas we’ve come up with so far.”
Aubree narrowed her eyes. “We?”
“Jackson and the elders.”
“And what ideas have you come up with so far?”
As Brooke hesitated, Aubree slammed the dresser drawer closed and glared at her best friend. “Tell me right now why I should trust you?” Aubree demanded. “Stone and I are counting on you and your pack to keep me and my parents safe, but that means telling me everything and not making any decisions about our welfare behind my back. Don’t forget that I’m a Luna now and even though I can’t shift yet and lack the necessary training, I have a pack that needs me when this is all over.”
Hurt reflected in Brooke’s pleading eyes. “Bree, please don’t be like that. You know you can trust me. It’s just that we can’t tell your folks what we are. That makes it harder to figure out how to keep your parents here without suspecting anything.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
Running her fingers through her hair, Brooke raked her teeth over her bottom lip. “The elders suggested drugging your parents so that they’re comatose for the duration of this thing, but Jackson shut it down.”
Aubree gaped at her. “Are you serious?”
The slight curl in Brooke’s upper lip revealed her disgust. “I wish I was joking.”
Anger ballooned within Aubree as she scowled. “Who suggested that? Need I remind them what happens when you piss off a lycan?”
She wasn’t fully lycan yet, but she would be one day. Then, it would be payback time and she would need Stone to hold her back to keep from smashing someone’s skull to smithereens.
Swallowing, Brooke looked away. “I know, I don’t like it either, but I don’t know what to do about your mom and dad. If I were in your shoes, I’d want to keep my parents safe too, but doing so without spilling the beans is the problem.”
“We got time to think about it,” Aubree grumbled as she zipped up the duffel bag and slung it over her shoulder with a huff. “But I hope we can come up with something better than drugging them. They still have jobs during the day.”
As if their careers should be the least of their worries, their employers would wonder and she couldn’t fake poor health if their absence lasted longer than a week.
“What if they entered a fake draw and we made them the winners with a prize trip to Europe, all expenses paid?”
Aubree’s brows furrowed. “We could do that?”
Brooke’s face brightened. “Of course. Why not? We could arrange to have them travel across Europe for two weeks and stay in nice hotels protected by werewolves—we have connections. Every pack does—well, except for yours. You guys lost that privilege when Stone was exiled as did everyone else who followed him.”
Heaving a sigh, Aubree closed her eyes and counted to ten. “It always comes down to that, doesn’t it?”
“Afraid so. Exiles are shunned for a reason. The sooner you realize it, the better.”
“But it wasn’t his fault,” Aubree protested. “It was an accident. He’s constantly being punished for an accident. How is he supposed to move on with his life if everyone he meets shoves that reminder in his face?”
“He’s not meant to move on from it. It defines him for the rest of his life.”
Aubree gritted her teeth. “That’s ridiculous.”
“That’s the way it is.” Brooke shrugged.
Unlocking her jaw, Aubree tried to relax, but couldn’t.
Things had better change, she silently vowed to herself. She’d had enough with this treatment towards Stone. The poor guy made a mistake and that was going to be held over his head for the rest of his life?
Not while I live, she told herself as they headed downstairs with the last of the luggage and stuffed it into Brooke’s car just as her parents came out with a cooler loaded with food and a case of beer.
And for as long as they live, I will make sure they’re safe too, she thought as she watched her parents load up their car.
If a trip to Europe was the best way to keep them safe, then that was what she’d do.